Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Chapter 23: Nandini’s Letter

Nandini Writes a Letter

That evening, Nandini sat alone on a decorated couch shaped like a swan in her garden. She was writing a letter on the palm leaf olai. She would write a few words and then hesitate and stop. Sometimes her body trembled like a small leaf caught in a storm and despite the soothing cool winds blowing through the garden and she had a handmaiden fanning her with a peacock fan while droplets of sweat appeared on her forehead.

“My Prince, I write this letter after much deliberation and hesitation. I hear a lot of rumours about the Kingdom and sadly your father’s ill-health is worsening every day. I hear that you have refused to come here despite the summons that he has sent. I am tormented by the thought that you wouldn’t come to Thanjavur, because I am living here. I believe that we could lay aside our differences if we could only meet once more. If you do not wish to come to Thanjavur, then can I request you to meet me at Kadambur Sambuverayer’s Palace? Today, I am married to a noble lord whose age matches that of your grandsire and that makes me your grandmother. I see no impropriety in our meeting at Kadambur. I am handing this message to the brave prince of Kadambur, Kandan Maran. You can trust him completely and send a reply to me.

Unfortunate and unlucky Nandini

After completing the letter, she read through it again and then turned to her handmaiden who was fanning her and said, “Go and fetch the Prince of Kadambur,”

When Kandan Maran came, he found it difficult to meet Nandini’s eyes. He looked down at his feet and somewhere aimlessly in the garden, unable to behold her mesmerizing beautiful visage.

“Ayya! Please sit down,” said Nandini. The slight tremor in her voice made him look at her face. Nandini continued with a smile, “I know that it would be difficult to see me with eyes that beheld and admired the beauty of the Princess,” Her words pained Kandan Maran’s heart, while her smile encouraged him to say and do many foolish things…

He said, “A thousand Kundavai cannot match the beauty of one Nandini Devi!”

“Nonetheless, if Kundavai were to say the ‘word’, you would even travel to the heavens to bring her King Indra’s throne. But you won’t heed my word and seat yourself, would you?”

Kandan Maran immediately sat down on the stone bench opposite to her couch and said, “Devi! You just need to say the word and I would even go to Brahmalokam and bring one of the heads of the Lord Creator,”

Nandini trembled at his words. She turned her head and said, “Lord Shiva left Brahma with four heads when he took one. Even if you take another head, at least he will have three more to live with…”

“Devi! I will listen to whatever you say but please do not talk about Princess Kundavai to me. I couldn’t stand the fact that she supported Vandiya Devan,”

“Still your flights of fancy were very impressive when you described the fight that you had with your friend,”

Nandini’s appreciation made Kandan Maran shy. He smiled foolishly and said, “I had to tell her something about how I met him, so I just allowed my imagination to take over but in the end he did stab me, so that was not a lie.”

“Ayya! I think it would be better if you could try to remember everything that happened that night,”

“Devi! Do you doubt my word then?”

“No. I believe you. But I think you have forgotten a few things that occurred that night. One day, our soldiers will catch Vandiya Devan and bring him here to stand trial for his crimes. Your testimony at the trial would be very vital and that’s why you need to make an effort to remember everything that happened…”

“I have no interest in that. I would like to forgive rather than condemn him to a life in the dungeons…”


“You have a forgiving heart. Nonetheless, I think it would be better if we could think back and decide among ourselves as to what happened that night. Do you remember what happened in the underground passage when you escorted Prince Madhuranthakan? Do you remember meeting me and Lord Pazhuvetarayar?”

Kandan Maran escorting Madhuranthakan

“How could I forget meeting you, Devi? No memory is more fairer or dearer to me than that…”

“If that is so, then you must also remember what you spoke on that occasion?”

“No. I remember meeting you that’s all. I can’t recall what I spoke…”

“Thankfully I do. You said, ‘Ayya!  I had heard many describe the beauty of your daughter but now I realize that mere words cannot pay homage to her…’ to my Lord Husband.”

“Ayyo! Did I really say that? No wonder he was red-faced with anger. Even now, I know that he does not like me much.”

Nandini laughed at him and said, “I does not matter if he dislikes you but you do like him, don’t you?”

“Devi! There is no use in hiding the truth from you. I too dislike him very much…”

“That is fine. I like him. That should make up for everything I think. I am very fortunate that God gave me a husband like him.”

Kandan Maran looked a bit embarrassed at her frank admission.

“Do you remember what happened after you met us there?”

“I followed the soldier who guards the underground passage. He had a fire torch and he opened the door of the passage and waited for me to enter. I entered the passage and that’s when someone stabbed me… Vandiya Devan must have known that I would be coming that way and was probably waiting outside to attack me,”

“Ayya! Your surmise is wrong. He was not waiting outside,”

“Devi! You too believe that he is not a ‘spy’ and a ‘traitor’,”

“No. He is a spy. But I know that he was not waiting outside the underground passage to attack you. I think he was waiting inside the passage.”

“But Devi, how is that possible?”

“You know that he vanished from the Fort that day when my brother-in-law’s soldiers were searching for him. I suspect that he somehow entered the underground palace and learned all its secrets. He must have seen you there and followed you. That’s how you ended up stabbed in the back… Maybe he felt remorse at having hurt you so he left you at the house of the deaf and mute woman…”

“Devi! You are right. I have been thinking about this for so long and I couldn’t understand how he came upon me so suddenly. Devi! I have just realized that there are people who are very beautiful but are witless and there are those who are very intelligent but not pleasing to look upon. It is very rare to find wit and beauty in the same person. Lord Brahma undoubtedly excelled himself when he created you with equal portions of beauty and wit.”

“Ayya! Do you really mean these words or are you trying to flatter me?”

“Devi!  I am not flattering you. I am merely stating the fact.”

“If that is so, will you do a task for me?”

“I will do anything that is within my powers to please you…”

“You will need to travel to Kanchi (Kanchipuram) for me,”

“I would go to Kashi also if you ask it,”

“You don’t have to go so far. Just Kanchi is enough. I have a letter for Prince Aditya Karikalan for you deliver. And you will need to invite him as a guest to your palace in Kadambur…”

“Devi! What is this you are saying? Don’t you know the arrangement and the oath that your husband and my father have sworn?”

“Yes I know but I also know many other things that these lords do not know. We are all at the brink of danger and sadly no one seems to know about this, except me. Do you know who is responsible for it?”

“No Devi! Please tell me.”

“The rakshashi who was here as our guest this afternoon is responsible.”

“Ayyo! Are you referring to Kundavai Piratti?”

“Yes, I am talking about that snake. I know the venom that Kundavai is made of. Do you know, she has sent your friend, Vandiya Devan to Elangai? And it is not for getting medicinal herbs for her father. She has no intention of saving her father from his ill health. After his demise, she wants the crown for her brother Arul Mozhi Varman. If he becomes the next king, she can rule the kingdom in his name as a ‘queen’. And do you know who the ‘king’ would be? Your friend, Vandiya Devan.”

“Aha! Devi! We have to stop this from happening somehow. Let us tell your Lord husband and my father…”

“There is no use telling about this to them. They will not believe it. We need to counter Kundavai’s moves through mine and it is not possible without your help,”

“Devi! I am at your disposal. Command me.”

“I want you to take this letter to Kanchi and hand it over to the Prince carefully. Will you do that?” asked Nandini with her hand outstretched holding the letter and its metal case.
Rendered witless over her beauty and beseeching words, Kandan Maran instead of taking the letter from her hand, held her hand and said, “I will do anything for you,”

Periya Pazhuvetrayar

At the same instant, they heard the sound of resounding steps that could only belong to Periya Pazhuvetarayar. Startled they turned towards the sound and saw him marching through the garden path towards them. A parrot that was chained was perched on a metal cage near the lata mandapam. With his anger matching his long strides, Pazhuvetarayar seized the parrot in hand and the poor bird, frightened out its wits gave a resounding shriek.



  



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